Last month, mobile communication in Tanzania took a step forward when Celtel Tanzania launched a new product called GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service. Handsets equipped with GPRS allow mobile phone users to transfer Internet data from one mobile phone to another or even to a computer, without using any cable. In the United States, the units are referred to as Personal Digital Assistants, or PDAs. Today, business people in Tanzania can have so-called mobile offices that allow them to stay in touch with their offices even if they are in very remote areas.
When installed in mobile phones, the GPRS technology allows consumers to access their Internet service for e-mails and instant messaging and to search for information on the web. Before the launch of the technology, people who didn’t have computers at home had to go to an Internet café to read and send their emails, but today this technology allows people to use their mobile phone for the same purpose. They can also use their phones for downloading entertainment, including video clips, games, ring tones, and sports.
Unlike phones using the traditional dial-up method, with GPRS you only pay for the amount of information you download, not the amount of time you spend on the Internet.
One of Tanzania’s leading fashion designers, Mustafa Hassanali, relies on his Celtel GPRS for important business correspondence. “It has made communication so much easier. For example, I was in town, it was three hours since I had last checked my emails, I quickly managed to sneak some time whilst on site to check my email. I had gotten a very important email; my deadline to submit an important document was [advanced] by a day, so by the end of the same working day I had to submit the documents. Had it not been for the GPRS, I wouldn’t have met the new deadline. Whether am away from office, or at the beach or on those horrendous evening traffic, I get the job done!”
The product may also help Tanzanians become better informed. For instance in some areas, newspapers arrive late because of the distance from the printing plants, but with GPRS people can browse and check on the highlights of a newspaper’s web page before the actual papers reach them.
Access to the Internet is rare outside cities, but with the new technology, business people, travelers and people in remote areas can now access the World Wide Web with their cell phones.
Celtel spokesman Mihayo M. Wilmore explains, “It is cost saving. If you look at rural hospitals where there is Celtel coverage, these people have a very difficult time, let’s say, ordering medicine. If you sit on a phone for twenty minutes ordering medication going through a list of an order of may be 6000 different types, you are bound to make a mistake, but with this service, you e-mail that and will cost you like 200 shillings.”
In Tanzania today, mobile phones are playing a major role in communication. About 42% of people living in urban areas have access to them. Celtel Tanzania is one of the mobile operators, which all cover large parts of the country.
Celtel is Tanzania’s largest mobile operator, with about 1,300,000 customers. It is a branch of Celtel International, which has more than 8.5 million customers throughout Africa. It covers approximately 30% of the continent and operates in 13 countries. They include Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Chad, DRC, Burkina Faso, Niger, Sudan, and Kenya.
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